Mardi Gras is more than just a party for local businesses in the city of New Orleans. Last year, the economic value of the carnival season contributed a total of $300.7 million to the city’s economy. Tourism, which brings in more than eight million visitors per year, creates a lot of revenue for local businesses. In fact, it has sustained 74,000 jobs and generated $5 billion annually for the local economy. Mardi Gras is one of the few events that has revived New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, which displaced thousands of Louisiana natives. The two weeks leading up to Fat Tuesday are the most lucrative for New Orleans business owners. Most hotels are booked, from the French Quarter to miles away near the Armstrong International Airport. King cakes, a New Orleans staple, are only sold around the carnival season and tourists and locals alike roam the city to find the best. While everyone’s letting the good times roll, BlackEnterprise.com Decodes how local businesses watch the money roll in. —Kamaria Gboro
CASHING IN ON KING CAKES
Not many people enjoy Mardi Gras without trying king cake, which are mainly sold during carnival season in New Orleans, King Cake King Manny Randazzoships these tasty treats year-round. Although many tourists and New Orleanians travel to Metairie, Louisiana to get their hands on the famous confections, their shipping and online sales are growing exponentially. “Sales are about where they were this time last year, so we expect to make around 100,000 or so king cakes and we usually ship 22,000 to 25,000 of those,” Randazzo told The Times-Picayune. Haydel’s Bakery is expecting a boom in sales as well. According to the manager, they expect to do close to 60,000 cakes this Mardi Gras season. They have been baking 800 to 1,000 cakes daily. Everyone wants a taste of the classic cinnamon cake with icing, decorated with the season’s colors, purple, green, and gold.
TOASTING TO GOOD FORTUNE
Thanks to an open container law, Mardi Gras revelers are able to take the party outside of the bars and into the street. One of the more popular drinks in the Big Easy is the Hand Grenade, which is the registered trademark of French Quarter nightclub Tropical Isle. Owners Pam Fortner and Earl Bernhardt invented the secret recipe in 1984. Since then, everyone who visits the city is excited to try the melon flavored drink. “Location helps business as well. There are three Tropical Isle locations in the French Quarter, two of which are directly on Bourbon Street. “I think Bourbon Street is an anchor,” says Fortner. “[People] come here then they spread out.” With many daiquiri shops located throughout the city, carnival time provides a boost in business for those in the liquor industry.
Being that most businesses don’t allow non-paying parade-goers to use their restrooms, the Porta-Potty business is big business in the Big Easy. The city provides portable toilets near parade routes for public use (about 300 last year) and some individuals go so far as to rent their own Porta-Potty for convenience. Some churches and schools use this opportunity to fundraise by charging revelers to use the restroom and selling restroom passes. St. Stephen’s Church and the Academy of the Sacred Heart located in uptown New Orleans are doing just that. Other restaurants and businesses are following suit by offering all day passes or charging for individual use. Most krewes have portable toilets rolling with them throughout parades. According to the South Louisiana Business News $10,800 was spent on 71 portable toilets lining the parade routes in Terrebone Parish.
ACCOUNTING FOR ACCOMMODATIONS
Due to the increased foot traffic during Mardi Gras, most revelers book their rooms months in advance, some as early as a year. A recent CheapHotels.org survey found that 15% of hotels were still available one week prior to the celebration, but last minute guests will pay more than double the regular rates. For example, a double room at the Ramada Plaza Inn on Bourbon Street that would usually cost $135 per night, could see a 253% price elevation to $349 a night. Similarly, The Holiday Inn Chateau Lemoyne’s Mardi Gras rate is $449 per night, in comparison to the usual nightly rate of $127. Some hotels conveniently located along parade routes create additional revenue by having parade viewing stands in front of the hotel. At the newly opened Hotel Modern on St. Charles Street, stand prices range from $30-$100 and patrons can order food and drinks from the provided waiter service.
THE BUSINESS OF BEADS
A big part of Mardi Gras tradition are the beads that are thrown to shrieking fans from the parade floats. New Orleans native Dan Kelly used to be just another reveler until he turned his love for Mardi Gras into a business. He is the owner of one of the largest wholesale bead suppliers, Beads by the Dozen. In an MSN interview, Kelly said his company, brings in eight million pounds of plastic beads each year. Mardi Gras is of course his biggest season, but holidays like St. Patrick’s Day and Cinco De Mayo bring in additional business in markets other than Louisiana. It’s estimated that Kelly’s bead company makes over $10 million yearly.
Beads and floats aren’t the only things needed for a spectacular parade. Costumes are too. Each krewe has a royal court and they must dress the part. The women don’t wear average store bought gowns, they seek couturiers throughout the city for a one-of-a-kind masterpiece. The dresses are embroidered and beaded with so much detail that the tailoring can take anywhere from 20 to 100 hours. Local designers charge for their hard work, with prices ranging from about $6,000 to $12,000. The parades are put on for tourists and locals, but the actual cost of the parade is covered by the krewe. “You have to pay the seamstresses to make the costumes, the jewelers to create the accessories, the float makers, the invitation makers,” Jennifer Day-Sully, Director of Communications for the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau, told IBTimes. “There’s a whole side of expenditures that the tourist might not necessarily think about.”